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At 1900 on 26 February 2004, the Bahamas registered passenger ship Astor let go its mooring lines and departed the Queensland port of Townsville.

The ship, equipped with twin rudders, controllable pitch main propellers and a single bow thruster, did not require a tug for the departure. The master, as is common practice on passenger ships, manoeuvred the ship clear of the berth and then, even though this was his first visit to Townsville, kept the conduct of the ship without consulting the harbour pilot. The pilot adopted an advisory role.

As the ship was turning from the harbour into Platypus Channel, part of the approach channel to the port, it grounded on its port side. The ship heeled three degrees to starboard and, after about three minutes, slid clear of the bank without assistance and continued out of the channel.

After it had cleared the channel, the ship stopped for about two hours to check that the hull was not breached and that all machinery was operating normally. Immediately upon notification of the grounding, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) placed a detention order on the ship until the ship's classification society was satisfied that Astor was seaworthy. When it was confirmed that the hull and machinery were in proper condition the detention order was lifted and the ship then proceeded to Cairns. At Cairns, an underwater survey of the hull was carried out to ascertain the extent of any damage.

Based on the available evidence the report concludes that:

  • The investigation has been unable to determine the degree, if any, to which a reported steering malfunction contributed to the grounding.

The following factors, however, are considered to have contributed to the incident on 26 February 2004, independently from any steering malfunction:

  • The master did not accept the pilot's advice after the ship left the berth.
  • Communications on the bridge were in a language the pilot was not able to understand.
  • The ship's master and bridge team members did not employ good Bridge Resource Management practices at any time leading up to the grounding.
  • The master had not positioned the ship correctly for a turn to starboard into Platypus Channel.
  • The master did not present an outward passage plan to any of those present on the bridge at the time of departure.

The investigation into the grounding of Astor was complicated by the fact that Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) data was not backed up in the time immediately after the grounding (highlighting a deficiency in crew training in this important facet of ship operations) and by the fact that company procedures were not followed with respect to the keeping of bridge records.

The investigation showed that crucial VDR information is easily lost by unintentional actions.

Of additional concern to the safety of navigation and the prevention of pollution on the Australian coast is that the master did not declare any steering defect to the Cairns pilot or port authority and Astor entered the Cairns Channel using only one steering motor on the port rudder without the pilot's knowledge.

This reports recommends that:

  • Ship owners, managers, operators and masters of ships ensure that all bridge staff are fully trained in the correct operation of VDR data backup procedures for the particular ship on which they are serving.
  • Manufacturers of VDR units should ensure that indicator lights are free of any possible ambiguity and that consideration be given to printing emergency backup instructions on VDR control panels on ships' bridges.
  • Masters of vessels should not actively con the ship directly during pilotage unless they are familiar with the port and they do so in full agreement with any pilot.
  • Ships' masters should ensure that all bridge orders in pilotage waters are in a language understood by pilots and ships' staff.
  • Ship owners, managers and operators should instruct masters and ships's to use all elements of effective Bridge Resource Management at all times.
Download Final Report
[ Download PDF: 650KB]
General details
Date: 26 February 2004 Investigation status: Completed 
Location:Platpus Channel, Townsville, Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: Queensland Occurrence type: Grounding 
Release date: 25 August 2004  
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Incident 
 Highest injury level: None 
Vessel details
Vessel: Astor 
Flag: Baham 
IMO: 8506373 
Type of Operation: Passenger 
Damage to Vessel: Nil 
Departure point:Townsville, Qld
Departure time:1900
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Last update 19 May 2016